Written by Kate Pauley
When One Partner Wants More Sex
What a challenging question to answer. The bad news is, I won’t be able to definitively answer that for you in this post, but I can give you some ideas as to where to start in trying to answer this question. So read on if you, throughout your relationship, have either found yourself or your partner wanting differing amounts of sex.
We’ve all heard the stereotype that men like to have more sex than women. And in reality, there is some truth to that statement. The truth is, that in almost every partnership, there is a mismatch between amount of sex desired. The untruth, is that it is always the man (in heterosexual relationships) who wants more sex. Regardless of who wants more sex, the fact remains that in most partnership someone is left wanting, and the other is left feeling deficient. In therapy, we refer to this as “sexual desire discrepancy.”
So how do we solve this problem?
Let me start by saying that this “problem” is completely normal, and to be totally transparent, inevitable. Because every individual’s level of sexual desire ebbs and flows, there will inevitably be times where that level differs from your partner. So the first thing you need to know is, don’t freak out! If you find yourself in this position, it doesn’t mean that the passion is gone, the intimacy is lost, it may simply mean that you two are experiencing differing interest levels in sex, period.
Next, we want to consider what factors play a role in a person’s desire level to engage in sex. There are three main categories that may impact sexual desire. They are: individual factors, interpersonal factors, and societal factors.
- Individual factors are things like: hormones, pleasure received from sex, stress, self-esteem, physical pain.
- Interpersonal factors are things like: attraction to one’s partner, emotional intimacy, sense of safety, relationship satisfaction, and communication.
- Societal factors are things like: gendered expectations, messaging from doctors/literature/media
When exploring sexual desire discrepancy it is important to not place the blame on the individual who does not want to have sex, as we can see here there are many factors outside of the individual that may be impacting the desire for sex. Additionally, it is important to recognize that desire discrepancy is only a problem when BOTH partners want different levels of sex. If both partners wanted less sex, there would be no problem, of if both partners wanted more sex, again, no problem. Therefore, it is important to look at this problem as a relational issue, rather than place blame on one partner or the other as that will most likely, only make the problem worse.
Here are some strategies for dealing with sexual desire discrepancy.
Firstly, talk about it; work together to solve this problem. Some things to discuss are:
- When each individual’s desire is highest (time of day, day of week, time of the month, etc.).
- What gets you in the mood – talk about what turns you on. Maybe you need more physical touch, maybe you need to be dressed up and feeling good, maybe you need to start by pleasuring yourself. Explore together what turns each of you on
- Talk candidly about how sex has recently been for you – are you orgasming every time, do you ever experience any pain, what positions feel best, are there new things you’ve wanted to try
- One thing that researchers have discovered about sexual desire discrepancy is that often one partner (typically male) utilizes sex to feel emotional closeness, whereas the other partner (typically female) needs to feel emotionally close before wanting to engage in sex. Be willing to engage and connect with your partner emotionally to create a sense of safety to allow both partners the space to engage sexually.
- For women especially, sex requires an incredible amount of safety. When you look at the female anatomy, in comparison to male anatomy, the female body literally needs to open itself to a foreign object. The body must prepare itself to be penetrated by a being external to it. The female body must soften, whereas the male body parts harden. For people with female body parts, a sense of safety is crucial to allow the body to do what it needs to do to prepare for sex. Emotional vulnerability is one way to create a sense of safety with your partner to signal to your partner that it is safe and secure to open to the physical act of sex.
Try scheduling sex & engage in masturbation:
- In various studies, couples have reported that scheduling sex can work when desire is different. Couples have reported that masturbating solo during the in between time has been helpful for couples to take some of the pressure off of both partners- the one experiencing high sexual desire, and the other who often feels in the position of having to say “no.”
Take sex off the table from time to time and engage in other activities:
- Sometimes couples can feel more engaged intimately when they take sex off the table. When they can explore what turns them on, engage with one another, and play, without things going all the way, sometimes couples find that this actually increases desire for one another. Then, when sex is back on the table, couples have a good idea about how to turn each other on.
Engage in couples counseling:
- These issues can be hard to talk about and can feel like difficult problems to solve. Sometimes working with a third party who specializes in working through couples issues can be the best course of action. At the Colorado Center for Couples and Families, all of our therapists include sex therapy in their work. We know that sex is an important part of relationships and want to help all clients obtain the quality of sex that they want (however frequent or infrequent). Please schedule an intake session with one of us if this is an area of your relationship that you’d like to improve.
This issue is a complex one, with no simple answer. If you find yourself getting stuck in this dilemma, please know that you are not alone, and that we at CCCF are here to support you in working through this stuck place if you’d like some external support.
For more information on our services, click here: Couples Therapy
For more information on our services, click here: Premarital Therapy
For more information on our services, click here: Family Therapy
For more information on our services, click here: Individual Therapy